Today’s project is to assess the existing digital history of my research topic. My research interest is in 19th century American Military History, specifically the post-Civil War professionalization of the Army. That seems a little broad for an internet search, but Google’s fast so let’s see what it produces before I narrow it down to something more specific and searchable.
1st Google Search: “19th Century American Military History”
Perhaps unsurprisingly the first several entries are Wikipedia articles. There is a timeline of Military History from www.militaryhistory.about.com; it seems pretty simplistic and pretty Western-focused, but could be useful for general background information. There are also several book lists from barnes and nobles and similar sites. Further down in the results is the 19th Century page for Military History Online, which actually includes a reasonable set of what appear to be somewhat scholarly articles (at least they have footnotes), although they seem to be member contributions rather than peer-reviewed entries. None appear to be particularly related to my specific research interests, although several appear interesting. As the last link on the first page of the results page is the Early 19th Century Online Bookshelf of the U.S. Army Center of Military History. For the 19th Century this includes two digitalized general reference books, and on digitalized archival source: “the Regulation for the Uniform and Dress of the United States Army, 1839.” Searching through the Center of Military History also pulls up Online Bookshelves for the Late 19th Century (7 digitized secondary sources, 1 digitized archival source), the War with Spain (5 digitized secondary sources, and 7 digitized archival sources).
Let’s see what adding “digital” to the search does.
2nd Google Search: “19th Century Military Digital History”
This search is completely dominated by www.digitalhistory.uh.edu articles. (slogan: “using new technologies to enhance teaching and research.”). While the articles lack footnotes, the .edu address is a least moderately reassuring. Going to their homepage, it seems to be focused primarily on K-12, but they do have some digitized primary documents as well as some exhibits (although none are related to my area). They also, quite usefully, have a link for how to cite them.
So it seems there is a decent amount of 19th Century military history available digitally, but so far nothing specific to my research interests, so I will try a more focused search.
3rd Google Search: “Leavenworth School System”
Well that was not super useful, and probably to be predicted. The results were all links to current Leavenworth school districts.
4th Google Search: “Army Leavenworth Schools”
Strike 2. Results of this search are split between sponsored links of for-profit schools trying to sell online degrees to service members and the websites for the current Fort Leavenworth schools (Command and General Staff College, Combined Arms Center, etc.).
This topic may be a little too esoteric and have too much overlap with current institutions to return a useful google search result, so I’ll have look deeper into likely digital archival sources. The most logical place to start is the U.S. Army Military History Institute. All of the USAMHI’s finding aides are available online, as well as a catalog search for their secondary sources and articles. The USAMHI also has several digital collections, including digitized army regulations, field manuals, and general orders. They also have a selection of manuscripts and printed material that have been digitized. Finally, there are key word searchable databases for their non-digitized manuscript holdings. The digitized files are mostly more recent documents, but the finding aides are useful for planning visits, especially as they have been digitized in such a way as to be able to do a key word search and have it bring you to specific entries in each document.
A search through the Nationals Archives site reveals similar results: the digitized elements of the archives are not relevant to my research, but all the finding aides and other research planning tools are available to at least do a majority of the leg work in identifying archival sources before showing up to the physical archive.
Finally, while none have shown up during the course of these searches, I know from prior research that many of the printed materials from this period have been digitized by Google books and other sites such as Hathi Trust. So while researching if a printed source is referred to, a quick google search of its full title will often turn up a digitized copy. Unfortunately, since many of the documents I work with have titles like Report of the Board of officers appointed in pursuance of the act of Congress approved June 6, 1872, for the purpose of selecting a breech-system for the muskets and carbines of the military service, together with their report upon the subject of trowel-bayonets, they rarely turn up in more generic key word searches.